By Josephine Chinele:
Even though Malawi has a high population of youths, the elderly are still the ones making key decisions, regardless of whether they affect the youths negatively or not.
Youths of Nsanje District have for over five years been waiting for a Youth Friendly Health Service (YFHS) designated building within the district hospital premises, but it is nowhere to be seen. It is even doubtful if they are likely to get this much wanted facility soon- May be until they graduate to adulthood.
Chairperson of Usapilanji Youth Club, Felix Tholongo said every year, they are told that there is no budget for the YFHS designated building.
“As youths, we usually have problems to access medical care, especially when we have Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Youths just visit the General Practitioner/Clinician and in most cases, their ailment is exposed. It is common knowledge STIs are treated in Room 3 so if a youth is on a queue to this room, people would easily make conclusions,” he said.
In year 2020 alone, 7,736 STIs (of young people aged 10-24) were treated at this facility.
Tholongo said the only thing youths seem to be getting frequently and easily are condoms which are made available through Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs).
“But the challenge remains the same that most of these HSAs are also friends to our parents which still makes it hard for us to access the commodity,” he said.
Sadly, the non-availability of YFHS is not the only Sexual Reproductive Health blow that the youths of this district are facing. They risk contracting more STIs and having unwanted pregnancies because they lack information on the issues which they would either get from the YFHS tailored programmes or outreach clinics. The outreach clinics are a thing of the past due to the same funding issues. The outreach clinics are supposed to be done weekly at different hard to reach areas, but have not been done for about two years now.
Tholongo lamented that the youth lack a voice in the district’s main decision-making platforms hence the YFHS designated building issue has not been priotised over the years.
“Yes we have youth representation but it is not enough to move the youth interests’ Agenda. We need more representation,” Tholongo observed.
Martha Nyatwakenya of Nzotheka Youth Club said she is surprised that the issue of YFHS facility at the district hospital has taken a long time to be sorted out yet the youths have representatives at Area and Village Development Committees plus at the District Council.
“I feel as youths we have a voice at important platforms but we don’t understand why our issues don’t materialize at all,” she said.
Area Development Committee (ADC) Chairperson, Mathias Chilumba said much as funds are never enough to satisfy the needs of all citizenry, there are suspicions that Nsanje District Council has not been managing funds well.
He observed that the impact of the funds ‘mismanagement’ has hit the locals hard, more evident in the renovation of Nsanje District Hospital Mortuary and the unavailability of essential drugs at the facility.
“We have been tussling with our council through CSOs and other interest groups over the management of the Constituency Development, District Development and Other Recurrent Transactions funds for some time now. How possible is it that there is no medicine at the hospital and other key projects are not done due to lack of funds? Every year?” he wondered.
YFHS Coordinator at Nsanje District Hospital, Alinafe Zaina, while confirming that YFHS lack a designated service room, said the challenge is putting more youths at risk of not accessing SRH information which would lead to more cases of unintended pregnancies and STIs.
Youths are now integrated with adults whenever they want to receive any health service. This integration discourages the youths to present their SRH issues for fear of meeting their parents and faith leaders.
“This has a negative impact on SRH issues such as unintended pregnancies, STIs, little knowledge on SRH issues including STIs, HIV testing, STI treatment among others. The Outreach clinics address all these issues since it is a full package,” Zaina said.
Zaina revealed that YFHS activities are only active when there are partners around and it’s through those sessions that the high demand of YFHS is vividly noticeable. Youths have been seen demanding for pregnancy, HIV, STI tests, male and female condoms, contraceptives such as pills, implants, Depo-Provera and Sayana Press.
Executive Director for Nsanje based Tiphedzane Community Organisation, Mike Dansa, noted that while youths may be well represented in community structures such as ADC and VDCs but their less representation at the Council is to their disadvantage.
“It could also be that the youths have a knowledge gap on what they are supposed to do or what development Agenda they need to push forward at that particular time. It could also be that they are part of the Council but may not be involved in the actual Planning.
“We have seen a number of structures being upgraded and constructed at the district hospital but there has never been any say about the priotisation of a YFHS structure,” he said.
Dansa pointed out the need to add more youths to the key committees and ensuring that they have the required connections with other grassroots youth structures.
“Otherwise, it’s not right to have all adults and youths being treated for STIs together at Room 3. The issue of not having YFHS mobile clinics also needs a lot of youth inclusion advocacy,” he observed.
Nsanje District Council spokesperson, Martin Chiwanda said there is a good representation of youths in all district council structures and this has been happening since year 2017.
“There are at least two youths, male and female at all structures at full council, ADCs, VDCs and other key committees. This also includes the CSO committees. These youths are believably moving all the youth Agendas at Nsanje district council level and others,” he said.
There seem to be youth representation in almost all crucial district committees in Nsanje but still more, the youth agenda remain stalled. Perhaps it is high time the selection of the representatives was reviewed so that right people should be in the right places. Some people may be given the platform but may be wrongly placed as they might not ably influence the decisions since they have no attachments at the grassroots level.
It is probably time for youths to select fellow youths that would ably and vibrantly represent them.
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